Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Marx versus Mediums: Materialism or Spiritualism? (1926)

Pamphlet Review f
rom the October 1926 issue of the Socialist Standard

Is Materialism the Basis of Communism?” The case against Materialism from the Revolutionary Standpoint. By Isabel Kingsley. (Henderson 6d.)

If a political Party continuously changes its policy and programme, follows one “stunt” after another, and advocates sensational measures of various kinds at different times for the purpose of attracting crowds of various mentalities to its ranks, it must not be surprised if it sometimes reaps a result such methods deserve.

The pamphlet before us is a case in point. Its authoress, attracted by the wild and whirling phrases of the Communist Party, joined that organisation, and then tried to spread her peculiar views inside its ranks. As the Communist Party is ready to support almost any view on particular occasions, this idea of the authoress had considerable justification. But the Party Executive, who make no fetish of logic, forbade such action, and so the pamphlet was published outside in an endeavour to reach the members inside.

Whether such a thing of shreds and patches, with its curious collection of freaks, as the Communist Party, can be said to have any basis beyond the job-hunting schemes of its leaders, and the money from Russia is a moot point.

Throughout the pamphlet there are numerous totally unsupported assertions and claims of the authoress that would take a volume to refute in detail. One or two examples may be taken. On page 7 we are told that “the middle of the eighteenth century saw the rise of Materialism,” a statement that A. Lange, the standard historian of Materialism, flatly contradicts. We read on page 9 that a new science called “Metapsychics” has been discovered, and it is described by Richet in an unreferenced quotation as follows : –

Metapsychic facts are marked off from the physical in that they seem due to an unknown intelligence,” What a convenient “science”? The “facts” (themselves in dispute) seem to be due to an unknown intelligence ! Perhaps the gem of these baseless assertions is given on page 26, where we are told : –
“Mind has healed broken bones, spinal curvature, and gangrenous wounds, in many cases instantaneously and after every recognised method of treatment had failed.”
Still Couè died. But the unkindest cut – to the Communists – is given on page 44, where one reads : “Between present-day Spiritism and Communism there is a striking general analogy”. We have never said anything quite so cruel as that.

Another feature of the pamphlet is the large number of statements placed between quotation marks, as if taken from various writers, though references are only given in two or three cases. There is a certain wisdom in this omission as we shall show presently.

A criticism of Materialism, sooner or later, means falling foul of Marx, Engels, Morgan, etc., and the Materialist conception of history, and Isabel Kingsley is not long before she begins her attack. On page 13 she asserts : “Never was there a less scientific mind than that of Marx, nor a less scientific book than Capital. “ The authoress’ mental inability to understand anything scientific is shown on the same page, when she says that the new idea brought into political economy by Marx was “the equivalence between Capital and Labour” ! Students of Marx will smile at this grotesque nonsense, as well as at the further statement on the same page, that Marx’s explanation of value “is not a scientific deduction; it is an ideal of social ethics, a new moral ideal.”

As if to make the proof of her ignorance of economics and Marx overwhelming, she follows the above statement with this : –
“While the classical economists regard the labourer as only one means of production, in the Marxian theory he is the sole creator of value.”
The most elementary student of economics can see at a glance that the two phrases of this sentence have no direct connection with each other. In addition, it implies a misrepresentation of Marx, because, as it is written, it infers that Marx said there was only one means of production, the labourer, a statement that is specifically refuted on page 10 of Capital. (Sonnenschein. – ED.)

Another misrepresentation is given on page 15, where we are told : “Marx’s method in Capital is the method of the moralist. He first postulates an absolute morality.” One need go no further than the preface to Capital to see the falsity of this statement.

A further instance of misrepresentation is when the authoress, on page 14, describes Engels’s book as “Socialism, from Utopia to Science.” Engels, of course, did not use such an absurd title, and it is in contradiction to the views in the text. There is not even the excuse of a translator’s slip, as Engels saw the English edition of this work through the press and wrote a special preface for it.

When the subject of the Materialist Conception of History is reached, the misrepresentation becomes blatant. The first thing that strikes the reader is that there is not a single quotation or even a word from Marx’s writing on this subject, in the whole pamphlet. Instead the following travesty of Marx’s view is given from the Century Dictionary and the Dictionary of Philosophy : –
“THE MATERIALIST CONCEPTION OF HISTORY assumes that the substance of all things human is wealth, qua its production and distribution; that religion, art, morality, etc., are its accidents, i.e., each and all of their manifestations being traceable directly, or indirectly, to economic causes.”
Not satisfied with this piece of trickery, the authoress borrows a falsification from America that consists of substituting the term “Economic Determinism” for the “Materialistic Conception of History,” and then proceeding to demolish the former view, which no Marxian defends, and so avoiding the trouble of meeting the Marxian case at all.

And what does Isabel Kingsley bring against the huge accumulation of facts, the scientific deductions, and the splendid generalisation that supports the Materialist Conception of History? That combination of cheap charlatanism and crude superstition, derived from savages, that is known as Spiritism ! After pages of abuse of Marx and the materialist philosophy in general, we are offered as a substitute the sentimental mouthings of old women of both sexes and the superficial conjuring tricks of mediums that Stuart Cumberland says would not obtain a 30s. a week engagement on a music-hall for most of its exponents. What a mouse from such a would-be mountain !

On page 39 the authoress complains that opponents of her case when writing in the Communist Review used various epithets as “dangerous,” “neurotic ravings,” etc., against her views. What does she expect? When a disputant pours out shoals of baseless assumptions, of unsupported assertions, besides indulging in deliberate misrepresentation, as we have shown above, it is a piece of impertinence to expect such a case, or its exponent, to be received with other than ridicule.

A foreword by Florence Baldwin has a “warning” that is the usual stock-in-trade of the parson worsted in a debate :
“None of us,” she says, “really knows the truth about ultimate problems, and if we dogmatise about them we may some day find ourselves quite on the wrong road.”
When one has recovered from the shock of this awful warning, one may retort that, firstly, the people who are doing the bulk of the dogmatising are the religious and Spiritist advocates who claim to know all about God, Soul, Spirit, Heaven, Hell, and Eternity. The scientist gathers his facts, draws his deductions, and frames his generalisations, but is usually ready to admit that, where his knowledge ends, he does not know. Secondly and of overwhelming importance is the simple truth that while the human race has existed, according to modern authorities, for something like a million years, yet not a single piece of knowledge, not a single fact, has been discovered that was not a materialist one. We may be on the wrong road, but as it is the only one we, or anyone else, know, it would savour of insanity to leave it for the uncouth mumblings and the hysterical promises of the five-shilling medium.
Jack Fitzgerald

Personalities and Socialist politics. (1926)

From the October 1926 issue of the Socialist Standard

We are constantly told by new readers, especially by members of the Labour Party, that they regret what they call our “personal” attacks on the leaders of other political parties. Many individuals in the Labour Party, who say they want to see the establishment of a Socialist form of society, claim that Socialist educational work would make more rapid headway if those who carry it on would carefully avoid hurting the feelings of workers who have some admiration or liking for their “big men.” At the same time it is readily admitted that the actions of these leaders often call for criticism. But our criticism, they say, is not “fair criticism, ” it is not “helpful” or “encouraging.”

In taking up this attitude our critics are showing in fact that their disagreement with our general principles and policy is more fundamental than they imagine. It is essential to our conception of Socialist education that we should continually use the lessons of experience to sap the confidence placed by the workers in their leaders, political or trade union, Liberal, Tory, Labour or Communist; not because those leaders are good, bad or indifferent, but simply because they are leaders. This to a superficial view, and in the eyes of those who unconsciously have in mind the false analogy of the military discipline applied to masses of mechanically-minded soldiers, looks like treachery to the working class, and it is, therefore, our endeavour to show that our attitude is in fact an elementary principle of effective organisation for Socialism.

We are, of course, not alone in attacking the leaders of other organisations, but our methods and our aims in so doing are different from those of our opponents. In the first place it is important to notice that we do not criticise Mr. MacDonald or Mr. Lloyd George on the ground that they are corrupt or incompetent, and that we know some better leaders—ourselves. We have no leaders in our organisation, and we do not ask you to believe that we can lead you to paradise, if only you will give us your confidence. No one would deny that individuals differ. Some men would readily, and others not so readily, permit themselves to be bribed by “the other side.” The influences most likely to affect Mr. Churchill, for instance, would probably make no appeal whatever to Mr. MacDonald. There are men of whom it could safely be said that it is almost inconceivable that they could ever be bribed, either by money, office, “honours.” or—perhaps the most seductive attraction of all—even by flattery and the offer of the hospitality and friendship of “society.”

But even if we could find leaders who in the accepted sense are incorruptible and possessed of sound judgment, we should still oppose the principle of leadership, and we should still be able to justify ourselves by reference to experience.

The typical feature of leadership is that of a man or woman standing in a position of authority, able in varying degrees to commit those whom he or she represents. Its extreme form exists in military organisation where the authority is almost unquestionable and unlimited. In the labour world it shows itself in the claim made by Labour M.P.’s to vote “as their conscience dictates,” i.e., not necessarily as may be required by their Party ; and in the practice of refusing trade unionists the right of access to the meetings of their own Executive Committees, and the almost universal custom of conducting negotiations with employers in private. These and other exhibitions of the leadership principle are tolerated by the workers because of their failure to notice two confusions of thought. Military discipline is compulsory on the soldier and is accepted by the workers in general as a necessity, even if an evil. It is truly a necessity—to the ruling class. They need a machine to enforce their policy, in defence of their interests, and they know no other or better way of organising that machine. They do not imagine that the protection of their interests, even to a politically ignorant army, will in itself serve as sufficient inducement to make soldiers sacrifice their lives. But the working class has to learn to organise and struggle for its own class interests, and it can only do this for itself. There are no leaders in earth or heaven who can relieve the workers of the twin difficulties of thinking out working-class policies and organising to achieve them. The first confusion of thought is this one of introducing military conceptions into the social struggle. The army is a force organised from above to fulfil objects to which the units composing the army may well be completely indifferent, if not vaguely hostile. It is directed by political leaders and their officer subordinates, who know precisely what they want done, and have small consideration for the lives or the wishes of those they command, except with in the narrow limits of military service. The army is a machine.

The struggle in which the workers are now engaged, and still more the struggle for Socialism, is the struggle of a class for power. It needs organisation, confidence and a comparatively high level of individual knowledge. These things can be won only by the voluntary intelligent co-operation of the workers. Leaders cannot give them, nor act as a substitute for them. The organisation struggling for Socialism must be built and must derive its strength from below, not from above. It must know its own path, and give its own instructions to its own servants, who will be neither ahead nor in the rear of the organisation itself.

This brings us to the second confusion of thought. Owing to their habitual humility towards those in authority, the workers imagine that there is some power and virtue in “office.” They think of their Labour M.P. or trade union leader as a being possessed of a power to act existing independently of themselves. There is no such power. The power of the M.P. is ultimately the power he has through his hold over the minds of his electors, that and nothing more. The power of the trade union leader is in you, the members. Bluff may serve occasionally, but everyone knows well enough that the employing class are not bluffed often or for long. It is precisely for this reason that, ever since there was a Labour movement, we have had from the time-honoured but ever juvenile institution called the “Left Wing,” a continual chorus of complaint that “our leaders do not lead.” They don’t “lead” because they realise that life is too precarious for the individual who gets ahead of the main body. Self-preservation can be secured only by-preaching as nearly as possible what is being thought by those who are seeking for guidance. This simple fact that victory or defeats rests finally with the organised workers, and not with their “leaders,” justifies our insistence on the need for the rejection of the belief in leadership altogether. Not until that has been done will the workers feel to the full their own individual responsibilities, and the recent general strike would appear to show that the workers are not slow to respond when responsibility clearly falls on them.

In reply to the objection that the workers will make mistakes if not guided by leaders, it is sufficient to point out that their leaders (apart from their own mistakes) are now quite unable to save their members from the latter’s mistakes. When the workers feel their responsibility for their own actions, they will at least be able to learn from them, instead of dismissing failure as the fault of this; or that leader. Under present methods of organisation leaders, however sound their judgment, can do little to save their members when outside influences are the immediate cause of a wrong policy being followed.

When in 1914 capitalist propaganda stampeded the workers into war fever, the very, very few Labour leaders who were not themselves swept away, could only look on in helpless despair. They could not stop the madness, and they could only take refuge in that deadly pessimism, which views the workers as hopelessly servile and ignorant, incapable of a sustained effort for their own emancipation. This seems to be the fate reserved for those leaders who do not become corrupted by the more common demoralising influences. We all regret the ease with which the workers can be moved by capitalist politicians, but we must point out that every defender of leaders and leadership is himself hindering the development of the minds of the workers to the point at which they will cease to be swayed by any emotional appeal, but will examine every statement critically, and accept no advice merely on the ground of the authoritative position of the leader who offers it.

It was remarked above that our criticism of leaders is different in kind from that of the Labour Party. In the Daily Herald (September 17th) an editorial was devoted to abuse of Neville Chamberlain. It was the kind of criticism we consider useless and dangerous to the working class. Chamberlain is said to do the “dirty work for the Cabinet,” and to like doing it. “He is singularly fitted for the seamy side of statemanship” ; he was the “most abject failure of the whole war period” ; he has never shown “a spark of ability or kindly human feeling.” But for him and a “few of his colleagues there might never have been need of the National Strike.” There is a whole column in the same kindly tone, and the, editor decides that Chamberlain is “a menace to the whole country,” and wants him sacked “to the lasting good of the nation.”

This is written according to the rules of the ancient game of politics. It is supposed to be useful and legitimate to denounce your opponents in order to win the votes of the unthinking. Possibly it serves its end, but it does not serve the end of bringing Socialism nearer. It does not hint at the necessity of dispensing with leaders, and it effectively, if not deliberately, obscures the one factor, an understanding of which alone can give meaning and simplicity to politics. It disguises the class nature of government. The capitalists are at present the ruling class. They rule with the object of preserving capitalism and defending their class interests. They govern with the consent of the majority of the workers, that consent being expressed at election times. It is our object to persuade the workers that while capitalism is good for capitalists, only Socialism can serve the interests of the working class. When this is recognised the workers will, instead of giving power to others, use their political power them selves, in order to establish Socialism. For the workers capitalism is the enemy, and Socialism the remedy of working-class economic problems. The Herald’s criticism of Chamberlain supports those, very illusions on which capitalist political control rests. It leads its readers to suppose that all will be well if “good government ” replaces “inefficient government,” and if a “kindly” Minister of Health replaces one who “has the niggling spirit of the usurer.” It fosters the belief that persons are all important and the system a matter of indifference. So long as the workers accept that view, the capitalist class will never have any difficulty in finding politicians able to play the part of “honest Baldwin” or “silent Cal Coolidge” or “clever Lloyd George” or “steady statesmanlike Asquith.” As one reputation falls so another rises. “Sack Neville Chamberlain” is the latest expression of a parrot cry which has been directed in turn against almost every Cabinet Minister for generations. Ministers come and go, but the system remains intact. Good government or bad, ministers with kind hearts or ministers with coronets, inefficients or supermen, these are all distinctions of minor concern to the workers. The thing that matters is that every government which administers capitalism does, and must, first and foremost, protect the interests of the capitalist class. Chamberlain’s activities are not a menace to the whole country. If they were a menace to capital, Chamberlain would have been dismissed long ago. If he is “kind” to his class, he must be “hard-faced” to ours; if he is a very efficient servant of our masters, so much the worse for us; if he is “niggling” towards workers needing relief to prevent starvation, so much the better for the capitalist taxpayers, who have to meet the cost of maintaining the derelicts of their profit-making system.

We are not much concerned with Neville Chamberlain’s personal merits, although it is highly improbable that he is such a villain as the Herald chooses to paint him. We are concerned with getting the workers to see that Chamberlain stands for capitalism, and is, therefore, bound to act contrary to working-class interests. This the Herald does not do.

We point out further that, if he were an angel, he could not do for the workers any thing material to improve their condition inside capitalism or to bring about Socialism. This applies equally to every leader of whatever political colour or personal quality. It includes Labour, Communist, and trade union organisations, and is our justification for our attitude. We claim that our criticism of leaders and leadership is necessary, and that unlike the Herald’s abuse of Chamberlain, it is based upon and helps to illustrate the basic principles of Socialism.
Edgar Hardcastle

Individualism and social evolution. (1926)

From the October 1926 issue of the Socialist Standard

The channels of propaganda open to the defenders of the present system of society are enormous. Apart from their control of “Education,” with its distortion of history, their Press, with its daily circulation of millions, would enable them—if they had an answer to the Socialist attitude—to cancel any effort the latter could make.

Their inability to keep the workers in the ignorant and docile state that they desire is demonstrated on the one hand by the steady growth of understanding among the working class of their common interest, and the fading of their prejudice against the propaganda of Socialism. And on the other hand by the panic that is exhibited on certain occasions by the Capitalist Class, breaking out in all manner of forms, and giving further evidence of the hopeless case they have to handle.

Their latest attempt to check the growth of working-class enlightenment is the formation of a company, with £20,000 capital, called “The Individualist Bookshop, Ltd.”

The Daily News (15/7/26), in giving particulars of this company, tells us that:
”The object of the company is to provide a London bookshop, where the Individualist as opposed to the Socialist point of view will be expressed in various ways.”

“Only books free from what the promoters consider the unsound economic theories of Socialism; will be sold.”

“It will collect books on economic subjects, written from the Individualist point of view : promote the publication of such books; provide a reference library for the use of students ; establish a circulating library, and organise lectures.”
An “Individualist Bookshop” that is a limited company would make even its founders laugh, if the concern to save their skins did not prevent them seeing the joke.

But apart from the stupid title of this company, with its £20,000 capital, described by Sir Ernest Benn, who is largely responsible for its formation, as a “modest beginning,” let us take a book from the shelf of this peculiar shop, and examine it.

The first point that strikes us is, that before the book could be produced, a written language was necessary, and before this, language could be written it was developed in an oral form. This, articulate speech, commencing with man in his most primitive state, is his earliest effort to lift himself above an individualist and animal existence and become a social being. Speech, which is of necessity social, emphasises the distinction betwen man and the lower forms of life.

During a period of thousands of years, and by the co-operation of unnumbered people, was produced the dialects out of which have grown the modern languages of to-day.

From the spoken to the written word there is again an enormous period of time, extending over thousands of years, from the early savage to the dawn of civilisation. This fact gives us an idea of the countless number of people who contributed to the production of writing from the hieroglyphics to the alphabets now in use.

Another factor needed in the production of this book is the printing press, which has been made possible by inventions which carry us back to savagery. The discovery of the use of fire by the early savage, and later in the next period the production of iron, are inventions which, apart from the influence they had on the state of society in which they were discovered, are still in the twentieth century needed to produce the modern printing machine, which owes its existence to the work, thought, and cooperation of thousands of generations of people.

This simple little book not only represents the accumulation of knowledge through the ages from earliest man to the present day, but is also in the modern sense a social product.

The miners that secure the various minerals, viz., coal, iron, and copper; the lumbermen who fell the trees; the transport workers who convey this material to the mills and factories where other workers await to convert it into the numerous forms needed to produce this “individualist” book, such as the machinery that reduces the giant of the forest into pulp for paper, the circular saw that rips others into planks, the printing press and the tools used for its production, are all necessary to make this book. Then the workers in the building trade erect the factory, and the different branches of the printing industry commence operations.

With this vast army of workers the picture is not complete. The farm labourer, the miller, and the baker; the weaver, and the tailor; the tanner, and the bootmaker are needed to supply this industrial army with food and clothing. We see, therefore, that in the production of a simple article, not only must the individual take part as a social unit in that work, but that each industry is dependent upon many others, a dependence that often extends beyond national boundaries.

Without the accumulated knowledge of the past, and the social activities of the present wage workers, Sir E. Benn and his friends would be climbing among the branches of trees and living their individualist life on nuts and roots.

We have seen that speech was man’s first step forward. This implies the common acceptance of certain sounds to mean certain things. As the language developed, the rules governing it grew and changed in proportion, and now to speak a language we must learn and obey the rules that control it. This is generally accepted, and even the Anarchist falls into line without an ungrammatical curse at the necessity of so doing.

As the rules alter with the development of a language, so with society. The rules and regulations are changed as the methods of producing wealth and the character of its ownership changes, and creates new needs and interests, and makes old laws and customs obsolete.

In their early days the Capitalist Class forced the development of society forward at a rapid pace; institutions that stood in the way were crushed out of existence. The Handicraftman and the Trade Guilds could not survive against the competition of factory production, made possible by the development of machinery and the use of steam power. With these changes the worker lost his individual character as a producer and became a social unit.

The rapid growth of capitalist production with the concentration of capital into fewer hands have forced these concerns beyond their individual control. Nationalisation or joint stock companies managed by a staff of wage slaves takes their place. The average capitalist draws his dividend without knowing anything of the business he owns shares in, and in many cases does not know where his money is invested. By the manipulation on the Stock Exchange he can go to bed owning an interest in one part of the world and wake up to find that interest transferred to another concern thousands of miles away.

While taking no part in production, but owning the wealth that is produced, the Capitalist Class find the task of concealing their useless nature from the workers becomes more difficult. With the distinction between the non-producing owners and the propertyless workers becoming clearer as the system developes, its defenders are alarmed at the growth of the propaganda that points these facts out to the workers and which explains that as their trouble is the lack of the wealth which they produce in abundance, the remedy is to abolish the system which enables this useless class to rob them of the fruits of their labour. This implies a change in the form of ownership from private to common. The conditions are ripe for this change, which can be accomplished when a majority of the workers know what they need and how to get it.

Recognising that the confusion of the working class is one safeguard against the overthrow of Capitalism and the establishment of Socialism, these defenders of the present system raise the cry of individualism to defend a form of society based on social production, and in which the exploitation of the workers by the capitalist has lost its individual character and become one of class robbery.

For the same reason they welcome confusionists like Ramsay MacDonald, who, speaking at the “Christian Endeavour Convention,” says, “You are fashioning the world into the likeness which is in your soul ” (Daily News, 22/6/1926).

But such nonsense, which would disgrace a village parson, will have no effect on the workers when they know what they fashion neither a world nor a system in either their mind or “soul,” but that the means of wealth production prevailing when the present system of society ends will form the starting-point or foundation in the one that follows. Also that the character of the ownership of the social wealth and the manner in which it is produced determine the nature of the class struggle. And, further, that the political institutions necessary to maintain the present system offers to the modern wage workers the means to end it and establish Socialism.

Securing political power, they will overthrow the Capitalist Class and establish a system of common ownership in harmony with social production.

The Socialist, therefore, while recognising the causes of social development, does not ignore the human factor, but gives it its true value. By this means he avoids the pitfalls of the Utopian, who builds castles in the air or “fashions a world” with his “soul” for a pattern. But, acting in conformity with the knowledge obtained from a correct conception of history, he carries on the class struggle, knowing that this war, fought out by an enlightened working class, must end in their emancipation from the present degrading position of slavery.
E. L.

New Publications Fund. (1926)

Party News from the October 1926 issue of the Socialist Standard

Party activities. (1926)

Party News from the October 1926 issue of the Socialist Standard

During recent months we have been able to open three new branches (Becontree, Hull, and Paddington), and there is every prospect that in several other new and old centres branches will be opened in the near future. An active campaign is being carried on in Yorkshire to make the literature of the Party more widely known. Sympathisers in Sheffield and Derby who would like to co-operate in the eventual formation of branches are urged to communicate with us. Members and sympathisers living in other districts where branches do not yet exist should consult us as to possibilities of increasing our sales of literature. Conditions now are in many respects particularly favourable, and with the active support of all members we may hope to see further gratifying results of our work in past years. It is hoped that branches which have recently not been able to maintain their former degree of activity will be encouraged to further efforts. We would again point out that the more rapid spread of our influence is continually impeded by lack of funds. London readers are reminded that Sunday evening discussions will be held regularly at the Emily Davison Club Rooms, 144, High Holborn, W.C., commencing October 3rd, at 7.30 p.m.

The Twilight of Christianity. (1926)

From the October 1926 issue of the Socialist Standard

If you increase the sum of twopence 50 per cent., you get threepence. But if you reduce threepence by 50 per cent., you get threeha’pence. Simple, isn’t it ! Everybody knows that, of course. Do they? There were some hundreds of innocent workmen who did not know it during the war, and when wages began to fall, and the same percentages were taken off as were put on, it was a long while before many made the discovery. We simply refer to the matter now so that the trickiness of percentages may be perceived. For instance, when the readers of the Daily News saw the result of their Religious Questionnaire announced in huge block letters, “70 per cent. strictly orthodox,” what did they gather? Very little reflection would have taught them much. Did they do that little?

The Daily News has upwards of 700,000 readers. For a fortnight they were daily urged to answer a series of questions, designed to find out the extent of their religious belief. Fifteen thousand, or 2 per cent., replied; 98 per cent. did not. So that the heavily leaded 70 per cent. is only 70 per cent. of 2 per cent. In the quieter regions of ordinary type, the Daily News Editorial sees this objection, and, whilst regretting the paucity of the poll, is of the opinion that, like the deep-sea drag-net, its contents are tolerably representative. We beg to differ. The analogy is not a good one. This was not a shot in the dark as the heaving of a deep-sea drag-net would be. This was a sustained appeal, in a prominent daily paper with a pronounced Nonconformist flavour, to its readers to testify that their belief in Christianity was a real, live thing. And for every 2 that answered, 98 did not. Innumerable preachers and teachers made it the theme of their sermons. The interest, we were assured, was widespread. And only two in each hundred answered. So that the heavy heading, “70 per cent. strictly orthodox,” is only part of the sum. A more cumbrous, but possibly more truthful, heading would have read, “98 per cent. indifferent, 2 per cent. muddled.” Yes, muddled; for whilst 70 per cent. of this tiny fraction are described as strictly orthodox, only 38 per cent. accept the first chapter of Genesis. Further, there were 1,500 more persons who were active members of Churches than believe in the formulated tenets of any Church. Again, “a number declaring themselves active Church members confess to a disbelief in a personal God.”

So that muddled seems the mildest word to describe them. And if the first chapter of Genesis is dubious, what of the second and third. If the Fall of Man is a fable, where is the necessity for a Redeemer, a Reconciler, an Atonement, and all the other things with capital letters that hinge upon the Fall.

We may reasonably admit that a plebiscite of this sort has but a limited utility. As an indication of the trend of current thought it is interesting without being valuable. Its significance lies in its being held at all. If the Christian religion were the great factor its adherents claim, a plebiscite would be superfluous. One does not take votes on the self-evident, the universally obvious. We assume, therefore, that a vote was taken because the connection between religion and behaviour is not apparent to ordinary observation. If an impartial, uninformed observer were to try and discover the connection: between the philosophy “Blessed be ye poor” and the Bishop of London’s .£10,000 a year, or the, slow, brutal, relentless crushing of the miners, and the Church’s £300,000 coal royalties, or the message of “Peace on earth, good-will toward men,” with the Christian Church’s attitude during the War, or all the contrasts of riches and poverty, magnificence and squalor, satiety and sheer hunger, wisdom and pathetic ignorance, contained within modern society, with the Gospel of Love, would he not be bewildered? If he were told our morals rested upon a basis explained to him as the Christian religion, would not his bewilderment increase?

No ! We think the true lesson to be gathered from the Questionnaire is that the average man is indifferent to the Christian religion. To openly avow oneself free from traditional superstition requires a definite effort and often some courage. The average man declines to make that effort. He finds indifference more comfortable. Indifference may not be definite disbelief, but it is nearer to that than to Christianity. How often do people refer to their God for guidance in their daily lives? In business matters, which gives them the greater concern, God’s blessing or the solvency of their customer?

The literature of former periods is filled with constant references to God. Even Acts of Parliament describe natural happenings as acts of God. If a battle was victorious, thanks were duly rendered to God. If a king escaped assassination, again to God the praise. The hand of God was seen everywhere, in the most trivial as in the most momentous happenings. The common people thanked Him ceremoniously at every meal, the uncommon people whenever worship could be combined with display.

As an instance of the change that has taken place, perhaps we cannot do better than quote the Daily News itself, the very issue following its comments on the Questionnaire, that of September 13th. The Editorial is commenting upon the escape of Mussolini from assassination, thus :
” ‘God has saved Italy,’ begins the Fascist order of the day, recounting Mussolini’s escape. It is an exaggeration. What happened was that a delay time fuse saved Signer Mussolini.”
We can ignore the subtle sarcasm wherein Mussolini is reminded that he is not Italy. Such distinctions are not stressed nearer home. But even the orthodox Daily News is compelled to admit that a murder was averted, not by the intervention of God, but by the breakdown of a piece of mechanism. And so we find with man’s advance in knowledge and his consequent control of natural forces, God becomes ever more nebulous, and religion a matter of husk-like forms. Even the so-called act of God is practically confined to strokes of lightning, and the lightning conductor makes His task ever more difficult.
W. T. Hopley

Materialism and Art. by George Plechanoff (Part 2) (1926)

From the October 1926 issue of the Socialist Standard

(Continued from last month.)


Let’s go further. In discussing imitation, we mention as directly opposing it the inclination of contradiction.

This should be studied carefully.

We know what an important role the “beginning of antithesis” plays in the feelings of men and animals, according to Darwin.
“Certain states of mind lead, as we have seen in the last chapter, to certain habitual movements which were primarily, or may still be, of service ; and we shall find that when a directly opposite state of mind is induced there is a strong and involuntary tendency to the performance of movements of a directly opposite nature, though these have never been of any service.” [1]
Darwin brings many examples which convincingly show that “with the beginning of antithesis” very much is explained in the expression of feelings. We ask : Is its action visible in the origin and development of customs?

When a dog throws himself on his back before his master, then his pose, combining all that is possible to think of as a contradiction to antagonism or resistance, is an expression of obedience. The beginning of antithesis is obvious here. That is also seen in the case described by the traveller Burton. The negroes of the Vuaniamuazi tribe, passing by the village inhabited by their enemies, carry no weapons, so as not to inspire a quarrel. Nevertheless in their homes, where they are comparatively out of danger, every one of them is armed at least with a club. [2] If, remarks Darwin, a dog turns on its maw, as if to say to his master, “Look, I am your servant,” then the Vuaniamuazi negro, disarming when it seems he should be armed, in the same way tells his enemy : “The thought of self-defence is far away from me; I wholly rely upon your generosity.”

In both cases there is the same meaning and the same expression, i.e., expression through action, directly contrary to the one which would be inevitable in a case where instead of obedience, inimical intentions existed.

In customs serving to express grief there is also evident the beginning of antithesis. According to Du Shalie, in Africa after the death of a man who had occupied an important place in his tribe, many negroes attire themselves in dirty clothes. [3] David and Charles Livingstone say that a negress never leaves home without ornaments except on those occasions when she is clad in mourning. [4] In the negro tribe of Niam Niam, when a relative dies the near survivors cut off their hair, as a sign of grief. [5]

In all those cases the emotion is expressed by an action contrary to the one which is considered useful or agreeable in the normal course of life. And if there are many such cases to be pointed out, then it is clear that a great number of customs owe their origin to the action of the beginning of antithesis. And if this is clear, then we can suppose that the development of our aesthetic conceptions is also accomplished under its influence.

In Senegambi rich negresses wear slippers, which are so small that the foot does not go in fully, with the result that these dames are distinguished by a very awkward gait. But this awkward gait is considered extremely attractive. [6] How could it become such? In order to understand this, it is necessary first of all to remark that the poor, working negresses don’t wear the above-mentioned slippers and have an ordinary gait. It is impossible for them to walk as the rich coquettes do, because it would cause a loss of time. And it is only on account of this distinction that the awkward gait of the rich women is so attractive ; time is not valuable to them, for they are released from the necessity of work. In itself this gait has no sense or value, but becomes significant only in its force of contrast to the gait of the working woman. The beginning of antithesis is obvious here, but notice that it is called forth by the existence of inequality in property among the negroes of Senegambi.

Let’s recall what we said earlier about the morals of the English nobility during the Restoration of the Stuarts, and you will agree that the inclination to contradiction displays a peculiar reaction in the social psychology of Darwin’s beginning of antithesis. Such virtues as industriousness, temperance, strictness of family morals, etc., were very necessary for the bourgeoisie, whose aim was to occupy a much higher social and political position. But were the vices contrary to the bourgeois virtues necessary for the struggling nobility? No, these vices sprang up not as a means of struggle for existence, but as a psychological result of this struggle : hating the revolutionary inclinations of the bourgeoisie, the nobility began to feel a disgust also toward their virtues and therefore began to demonstrate vices just the contrary. The action of the beginning of antithesis also in this case was brought on by social causes.7

It is known from the history of English literature how strongly the psychologic action of the beginning of antithesis, brought about by class-struggle, has reflected itself upon the aesthetic conceptions of the upper classes of society. The English aristocracy who lived in France during their exile, became acquainted with the French theatre and literature which presented a standard quite singular in character, and in its way the product of the refined aristocracy and therefore suited more to their own aristocratic tendencies, than the English literature and theatre of the Elizabethan age. After the Restoration, French tastes began to predominate on the English stage and in English literature. Shakespeare began to be treated as the French treated him afterwards, as strongly holding to classical traditions, that is as a “drunken savage.” His “Romeo and Juliet” was considered then as bad; “A Midsummer Night’s Dream“—”foolish and ridiculous” ; “Henry VIII” was found too “naive”; “Othello”— “mediocre.” [8] Such criticism of Shakespeare does not fully disappear even in the next century, Hume thought that Shakespeare’s genius seemed large in the same way that all ugly, disproportionately built bodies seem large. He blames the dramatist for his total ignorance of all theatrical art and conduct.

Pope regretted that Shakespeare wrote for the people and did without the protection of his prince and the encouragement of court. Even the famous Garrick, the worshipper of Shakespeare, tried to ennoble his “idol” in his performance of the grave-digger ; to “King Lear” he added a happy conclusion. But the democratic part of the public in the English theatres continued to feel the deepest devotion to Shakespeare. Garrick confessed that in changing Shakespeare’s plays he risked a wild protest from this part of the public.

His French friends paid him compliments in their letters regarding the “courage” with which he met the danger; “Car je connais la populace Anglaise,” adds one of them. [9]

The licentiousness of manners of the nobility of the second half of the seventeenth century was reflected, as is known, on the English stage where it took indeed extreme measures. According to Edward Engels, comedies written in England between 1660 and 1690 almost all without exception belong to the domain of pornography. [10] After all this we can say a priori, that sooner or later in England, at the beginning of this antithesis, the appearance of dramatic productions whose main aim would be the representation and exaltation of bourgeois virtues was inevitable.

As far as it is known, Hippolyte Taine noticed and more ingeniously than others emphasised the significance of this in the history of aesthetic conceptions. [11]

In his illuminating and interesting “Voyage aux Pyrénnées” he related a talk with one of his “table neighbours,” Mr. Paul, because it adequately expressed the author’s point of view.

“You go to Versailles,” says Mr. Paul, “and are perturbed by the seventeenth century tastes. But cease for a moment to judge from the point of view of your own needs and your own habits. . . . We are right when we are charmed by a wild landscape, as they were right when such a landscape seemed tedious. There was nothing uglier than this mountain for the people of the seventeenth century. [12] It evoked many unpleasant pictures. People who only recently lived through the epoch of Civil Wars, and semi-barbarism, in view of this mountain, called to mind hunger, long rides on horseback under snow and rain, black bread half mixed with husk, served always in dirty, greasy hotels. They were tired of barbarism, just as we are tired of civilisation. These mountains give us a chance of retreat from our pavements, offices and stores. This is the only reason why you like this landscape and if it were not for this reason it would seem to you as ugly as it once seemed to Madame Mentenon.”[13]

We like the wild landscape as a contrast to city views, of which we are tired. City landscapes and trimmed gardens were liked by the people of the seventeenth century as a contrast to a wild site. The action “of the beginning of antithesis” is here undoubtedly patent. But just because there is no doubt, it clearly shows us to what extent psychological laws can serve as a source of explanation of the history of ideology in general and of the history of aesthetics in particular. The beginning of antithesis played an important role in the psychology of the people of the seventeenth century, as it plays an important role in the psychology of contemporaries. Why then are our aesthetic tastes contrary to the tastes of the seventeenth century? Because we live in an environment entirely different. Therefore we come to the known conclusion : the psychological nature of man makes it so that he can have aesthetic conceptions, and that Darwin’s beginning of antithesis (Hegel’s “contradiction”) plays an immense role, to this time unappreciated in the mechanism of those conceptions. But why does the given man have only these and not other tastes ; why does he like only these and not other things?—this depends upon his environment. The illustration given by Taine also shows well the character of those conditions; how the social conditions determine the nature and course of man’s culture.

The illustration by Taine shows social conditions, as a cause that makes the fundamental laws of our psychology, but in this illustration the discourse is only about our relations to the impressions made by nature. But the fact is that the influence of such impressions changes in accordance with our own relations to the change in nature, and our own relationship is determined by the course of development of our social culture. As an example Taine gives a landscape. It is to be remarked that in the history of painting a landscape in general takes a place far from perpetual. Michel Angelo and his contemporaries neglected it. It developed in Italy only at the end of the Renaissance, at the moment of its decay. Also for the French artists of the seventeenth and eighteenth century it had no substantial meaning. In the nineteenth century this is abruptly changed; the landscape is beginning to be esteemed for the sake of a landscape, and such young painters as Fleur, Kaba, Th. Reausseau seek for inspiration at the bosom of nature, in the outskirts of Paris, in Fauntenebleau, and in Medon; the possibility of such inspiration was not suspected by the painters at the time of Le Brens and Bouche. Why? Because the social conditions of France changed and as a result the psychology of the French changed. And in various epochs of social development man gets for nature different impressions, for he looks upon them from different points of view.

The action of general laws on the psychical nature of man do not cease, of course, with only those epochs. But, as in various epochs, in consequence of variety in social relations, since different materials come into human minds, it is not strange that the results of its finish are different.

1Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals.” (P. 50.)
2 Voyage aux grands lacs de l’Afrique orientale, Paris, 1862. (P. 610.)
3 Voyage and Adventures in Equatorial Africa. (P. 268.)
4 Exploration du Zambèse et de ses affluents, Paris, 1866. (P. 109.)
5 Schweinfurth; In the Heart of Africa v 2 (P. 33.)
6 L. J. B. Berenger-Ferand. Les peuplades de la Sénégambie. Paris, 1879. (P. 11.)
7 It is necessary also to remark that only because of their social position the nobility could put their brilliant vices against the common virtues of the bourgeoisie. In the psychology of the struggling peasantry or proletarian class the action of the beginning of antithesis could have been displayed in the same fashion.
8 Beljam. (Pp 40-41.) Compare Tains. (Pp. 508-512.)
9 About this see an interesting investigation by J. J. Jusserand. ”Shakespeare sous l’ancien regime.” 1698. (Pp. 247-248.)
10 Geschichte der englischen Litteratur. 3 Auflage, Leipzig, 1897. (S. 264.)
11 Tarde had a wonderful occasion to examine the psychological action of this beginning in his book, “L’Opposition universelle, essai d’une théorie des Contraries,” which came out in 1897. But for some reason he did not make use of it, and limited it with only few remarks about the indicated action. It is true, Tarde says, (P. 245) that his book is not a sociological treatise, but even in a treatise especially devoted to sociology, he certainly could not have mastered this subject had he not gotten rid of his idealistic view.
12 We must have in mind that the conversation is carried on in the Pyrenees.
13 Voyage aux Pyrénées cinquieme edition. Paris, 1867.

Translated for “Modern Quarterly” by Bessie Peretz.

(To be concluded).